Article by J. R. Rardon
Images by Brian Argyle
When Dr. Hugh Fletcher approached Harry Indriksons with a prescription 17 years ago, Indriksons had no reason to believe he was ill. But he has continued on the same course to this day, and has never felt better. That’s because it wasn’t a prescription for medication, but for something entirely different.
Indriksons, a teacher at Qualicum Beach Elementary School, is head of the school’s mountain bike club, whose humble beginnings trace to Fletcher wanting to ride with his Grade 6 son when the youth enrolled.
“Dr. Fletcher approached me about sponsoring a group for riding,” says Indriksons. “That first year I was a tourist; I didn’t really ride much. The following year we — myself and a small group of fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers, uncles, aunts, older brothers and sisters — were on our own, and we have continued riding ever since.”
Through its first 16 years, the QBES Mountain Bike club has witnessed the arrival — and departure — of other school riding clubs; the creation of its own trail system; the accumulation of a fleet of loaner bikes that sometimes become the possession of children in-need; the reconfiguration of Qualicum Beach Middle School to its current K-7 elementary status; and the recent emphasis by the Ministry of Education on outdoor study and curriculum.
Through it all, one thing has remained constant — the simple joy the young students get from clambering aboard their bikes and powering them over roots, around stumps and under the sprawling canopy of the forest. And doing it as a group.
Those who choose to join the after-school group, which meets each Thursday afternoon, ride in all conditions, including rain, cold, and the dark of winter.
“Someone coined the phrase that, ‘In the bike club we build character; we make memories,’” Indriksons says. “Yes, they are biking. And yes, they are learning skills. And yes, we’re exploring. But it’s the being together. Sometimes the kids — and the adults — will yak the entire time. The riding is almost secondary.”
Ace of clubs
Dr. Fletcher was president of the Arrowsmith Mountain Biking Club (AMBC), an assemblage of competitive cross-country, downhill and enduro mountain bike racers, when he first came to Indriksons with the idea of sponsoring a school mountain biking club. AMBC was an immediate sponsor of the fledgling club, a role it maintained for years. The inaugural group was comprised of Fletcher, his son, and a handful of other like-minded riding enthusiasts.
“They were kind of hoping the kids would get into the racing aspect,” explains Indriksons, “hoping, in a sense, that we would feed the machine. But the kids told us very quickly on, ‘No, Mr. I, we’re not into racing.’”
They were, however, mostly boys in grades 6-8. As such, they eagerly sought out trips to the Hammerfest race course near Errington, to the Top Bridge trails at the south end of Parksville, or to the Qualicum Beach BMX bike park.
They were often joined by riders from the other two area middle schools, Springwood and Oceanside, which also had active mountain bike clubs for several years. Now, as an elementary school, they have a younger group of trail-riders.
“The middle school kids got tired of this (local trail system),” he says. “They want to fly; they want to jump; they want to do all these stunts. Now, in our third year as an elementary school, these kids have all they want in our area. They don’t want to go anywhere else.”
He also credits the success of the club to the fact that the trails are only five minutes from the school. “No other school that I know of has that kind of situation.”
Happy trails to you
The QBES trail system, carved from forest land in a unique partnership with Island Timberlands, is an easy to moderate, single-track ride over packed dirt and occasional decommissioned logging roads. It was largely constructed, bit-by-bit through the years, by Indriksons and a cadre of fellow mountain bike enthusiasts, along with the occasional parent of a student rider.
The total area encompasses nearly a square kilometre, and the trails are uniquely configured to provide a fun yet challenging ride, either for the elementary students or the adult group rides Indriksons hosts on Tuesdays and Sundays. “That’s our playground,” he says.
It is also, of course, a work site for the host timber company. But Indriksons says Island Timberlands has gone above and beyond the call to work with the school to provide access — and much more.
“When they did their last cut in our area, they GPS’d all our riding trails and tried to preserve them as best they could,” he explains.
The company also took the step of inviting students out to an active logging site during their last cut, Indriksons says, showed the kids how to plant trees, showed them the machines and had a machine operator come out and answer their questions.
The trails have also morphed into pathways to the school’s latest classroom. “What’s happened with our evolution as a school, and the Ministry’s emphasis on more outdoor education, is that this area isn’t even called the bike trails anymore. Now it’s called the Outdoor Ed Area.”
Working as a team
In addition to the trails, Indriksons said, the success — and even survival — of the QBES mountain bike club has been dependent on an entire community of like-minded riders and supporters.
They have included sponsors like Fletcher and AMBC, private individuals who may or may not have students in the school, and three regional cycle shops — Head Over Wheels, Island Cycle and AMC.
Kebble Sheaff of AMC has been a benefactor since the early days of the club, when he performed repair and maintenance of the bikes for free and even donated used — and occasionally new — bikes to the club. “Kebble has been a phenomenal sponsor for 17 years,” Indriksons says.
With the donations of bikes and helmets from Sheaff and other donors, no child needs to miss out because they do not have a bike. Some students who have shown dedication to riding, but whose families have financial hardship, have been gifted mountain bikes, or been sold a $500 cycle for as little as $50 through the club and its sponsors.
“We strive to make the bike club no cost to the children,” Indriksons says. “It takes between $4,000 and $5,000 to run the program each year. These funds come from the school and the school’s PAC; from organizations such as AMBC; as well as from service clubs and private individuals.”
Indriksons also needs adult helpers each Thursday on the club’s rides, which are held for beginner, intermediate and expert groups. He never falls short, he says. “Sometimes, I have more adults than kids,” he says with a chuckle. “They’re out there to give, to support, to teach and to share in their enthusiasm for the sport. I couldn’t do it these days without the support I have.”
“The criteria to join is pretty simple,” Indriksons says. “Can you ride a bike? Can you switch gears? And can you keep up? If you’re seven years old and you can do all that, then you’re in.”
Hundreds have taken him up on the offer in the 17 years of the club’s existence, riding throughout the year and taking part in the annual year-end outing to Hornby Island’s Mount Geoffrey Nature Park trails. Others have moved into leadership roles, trusted with leading rides or performing as “sweepers” who follow in back and make sure nobody is left behind.
“It’s about the thousands of little stories, the thousands of things I see,” says Indriksons. “For example, we have a little girl who started out here barely able to ride a bike. She’s at the end of the group, barely hanging on. Everything stops her. A root. A log. Everything. But now, she’s a confident, skilled little rider. She’s at the front; she’s taking on leadership roles.”
The club isn’t for everybody, of course. But those who enjoy it, ultimately become part of something much bigger. Part of a family of riders who often return after they’ve moved on to secondary school and beyond, into adulthood.
“It speaks to the family that we are,” says Indriksons. “It’s a place to belong. A place to hang out. A place to share.”
In other words, it’s just what the doctor ordered.
Photos: Harry Indriksons and the QBES Bike Club, riders who regularly hit the trails with the club.